Ethnography and writing

Ethnography: A branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific descriptions of individual cultures. During graduate school I took a class called Ethnographic Methods. It was pretty much people watching on steroids. We were required to wake up and pay attention to the world around us and document it. One assignment in particular sticks out in my mind. We had to go out in public and collect data. This meant going somewhere and writing about the people, the place, and what was going on. We also had to be discrete by participating in the event but all the while writing things down.

I choose to do my assignment at the local farmer's market. Saturday morning, a few classmates and I went to the local city square where the market was happening. I decided to use my phone to keep my notes. That way I could look like I was texting while really taking notes. When I arrived, I drew a map of all the booths in my notebook and wondered what to do next. I have had a lot of experience people watching, but I had never taken notes on it. What should I write? I started asking myself various questions:

Where do people go first? Why can a puppy be without a leash around all this food? How do customers know who to pay? Should people really wear that color? How long does the typical person stay at each booth? Who is allowed to sneeze and not cover their mouths? What type of people are here? Where is that awesome smell coming from? Which booths are the most popular? What ages are the people here? Why is the coffee all the way down the block!?

Answering these questions told me a lot about my own culture that I had never noticed before. It showed me the things we just know. I was able to see my culture instead of just being a part of it.

I sometimes still do this when I go places. It has become a little addictive to be honest. This practice has given me a better understanding of my own culture and the people who live in it.

All of this has also increased my people watching by about 400%. (When I am paying attention.) Coffee also seems to increase this process exponentially.

Have you ever noticed why people do things they do? Do you have any fun people watching stories?